What is Pacemaker Implantation?

Much like humans, many dogs can suffer from heart problems, especially in their later years. To prevent serious conditions from significantly impacting on an animal's quality of life or even causing death, some owners opt for a pacemaker to be surgically installed in order to regulate the dog's heartbeat. The pacemaker does this by using an electric charge to 'shock' the heart back into a normal rhythm whenever the organ fails to maintain one by itself.

Pacemaker Implantation Procedure in Dogs

Before surgery, a general anesthetic is administered to the dog and an area of the torso is shaved in preparation for incisions to be made. For dogs, the main body of the pacemaker is usually implanted on one side of the neck, just under the skin. This allows ease of access in future, and reduces the risk of the pacemaker being damaged or migrating through the body. An electrode is run through the torso from the main housing of the implant and is connected to the heart - this is the means by which the pacemaker will deliver the electric 'shocks' that will regulate the heartbeat. Depending on the type of pacemaker being used, some degree of software calibration may be necessary in order to optimize its functionality.

Efficacy of Pacemaker Implantation in Dogs

The effects of the implant are immediate once it has been activated. Normally after being switched on, the pacemaker will continually monitor the dog's heart rate and administer a corrective shock should the heart start to beat out of time. This is referred to as a 'demand' system, in which the pacemaker intervenes only when necessary. Another style of pacemaker programming directs the implant to continuously shock the heart to maintain a heartbeat. This is only used in dogs that are experiencing almost complete heart failure and who would not otherwise be able to survive. For animals suffering from milder forms of arrhythmia, an alternative to having a pacemaker fitted is to take a regimen of drugs such as diuretics and blood thinners. These drugs are designed to prevent fluid retention from putting a strain on the heart and to make the blood easier to pump around the body, reducing the risk of blood clots and strokes. Whilst less physically intrusive than a pacemaker, it can sometimes be a challenge to regularly administer these drugs to a dog in the long term.

Pacemaker Implantation Recovery in Dogs

One the operation is complete, it is important for owners to bear several things in mind. Firstly, due to the location of the implant on the neck, the dog will no longer be able to wear a collar, and will require a body-harness in order to attach a lead. Secondly, painkillers will be required for several weeks after the operation until the surgical wound heals. Lastly, it is generally recommended that the dog avoids exercise for at least a month, so as to allow the pacemaker to settle in place on the neck and not be jostled out of position. The total recovery time is normally around two months.

Follow-up visits will be needed initially in order for the vet to check that the incision is healing correctly and to remove stitches. Following on from that, regular checkups will be required in order to make sure that the pacemaker is working as needed and to perform re-calibration if required.

Cost of Pacemaker Implantation in Dogs

The price of having a canine pacemaker implanted can range anywhere from $2000 to $4000 dollars. This is due in large part to the cost of the implant itself and the amount of time needed to properly adjust and maintain it. The cost is also affected by the type of heart problem being treated, with treatment dogs that require constant heart fibrillation via pacemaker usually being the most expensive. Diuretic drugs, for comparison, are much cheaper in the short term, but costs can add up as time goes by. 

Dog Pacemaker Implantation Considerations

When considering a pacemaker implant, there are some attendant risks that owners should be aware of. First is the need for general anesthetic - this can be slightly risky for all animals, but dogs (especially elderly ones) suffering from heart problems have an elevated risk level for complications. The second risk factor is the small chance of device failure or malfunction. Despite these problems, pacemakers remain one of the most effective ways to treat dogs with serious heart conditions.

Pacemaker Implantation Prevention in Dogs

The most effective way in which to avoid the conditions that necessitate the implantation of a pacemaker is to make sure your dog has a good level of cardiovascular fitness. Owners can also draw health benefits from exercising their dogs, as the long walks and games of fetch will have an impact on them too. Although certain breeds of dog are more prone to heart disease than others, it is by no means unavoidable. Young dogs in particular should be given every opportunity to exercise in order to build a strong heart that will serve them well into their later years.

Pacemaker Implantation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Our dog has been diagnosed with sick sinus syndrome by our vet and is having pacemaker surgery tomorrow at Tufts. How long should she fast and does this include water?
Thank you

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations

Generally before surgery we advise that an animal fasts twelve hours prior to surgery which usually means withdrawing food as you go to bed at night and then withdrawing water two hours prior to pre-medication which can be when you wake up. Due to the specialist nature of the surgery, I would recommend calling Tufts to confirm any details. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

How has Bella done? My girl had her surgery yesterday? TT is her name

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